Late Tyrone tsunami secures All-Ireland semi-final spot
Donegal’s defeat ends Tir Chonaill’s sequence of 21 unbeaten games in Ballybofey
Tyrone’s Harry Loughran scores his side’s first goal in Ballybofey. Photograph: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
Donegal 1-13 Tyrone 2-17
Mickey Harte was quick to dim the euphoria, as Tyrone marched into an All-Ireland semi-final clash with Monaghan after toppling Donegal with a storming fourth quarter demolition.
When corner-back Paddy McGrath put Donegal four points in front, in the 54th minute, it seemed as if Declan Bonner’s Ulster champions had the heavy lifting done.
But the winds changed direction and, soon they were submerged in a Tyrone tsunami.
Michael Murphy’s goal, in the dying embers of the first half, had given Donegal a real edge, but Mickey Harte urged Tyrone at half-time to ‘change the script’. And it was his replacements who sharped the pencils; Tyrone’s bench accounted for 2-5 in a late burst that saw them outgun Donegal 2-7 to 0-2 after McGrath’s score.
Harry Loughran followed in to connect and finish after Tiernan McCann’s fisted effort dropped shot in the 62nd minute and it was the crucial swing of the pendulum..0
The goal had Tyrone two ahead and they tacked on three points, including a long-range free from Niall Morgan - who spurned a chance in the first half that brought back echoes of a 2013 defeat here in the Ulster Championship.
Deep into added time, Declan McClure finished off a move involving Loughran and Rory Brennan.
This was no ordinary quarter-final - and a first Championship win over Donegal in Ballybofey since 1973 and a defeat that ends Tir Chonaill’s sequence of 21 unbeaten games at the venue were further bonuses for the Red Hand faithful, who flooded the MacCumhaill Park pitch at the end.
“The big thing we have to get our feet back on the ground because players have no control over what happened at the end of the match today,” Harte warned.
“The supporters just flowed on to that field and were so euphoric and we wouldn’t want to get caught up in that euphoria because there are no cups handed out today, no titles won, no medals. It’s just a stepping stone to the semi-final of the All-Ireland and a semi-final is a dangerous place to be.”
Donegal led for the first time when Jamie Brennan fisted over in the 35th minute and they were gift-wrapped a goal when Morgan’s kick-out, intended for Pádraig Hampsey, was intercepted by Ryan McHugh. With Murphy powering off his shoulder, McHugh handed his captain the ball and Murphy’s finish gave Morgan - who got a touch - little chance of keeping it out.
Remarkably, it was Murphy’s first goal in Championship football for Donegal since that magical moment early in the 2012 All-Ireland final.
Half-time, however was perhaps a quick blessing for Tyrone, who lost here in fierce Ulster wars in 2013 and 2015.
This, though, was different Tyrone.
“It was a sucker blow alright and it was difficult but there was still resilience in the changing room,” Harte said afterwards.
“We felt we had played more but we were in control for more of that half than the scoreline suggested at half-time.
“We knew that this was not throw in the towel time, this didn’t need to be like it was a few times here before. We could change the script and the boys were very resilient in their attempts to do that and it wasn’t easy.”
A sometimes spiteful afternoon ended with nine yellow cards, one black and, miraculously, no red cards.
Colm Cavanagh walked the tightest of ropes. Not long after being booked following a tussle with Odhrán Mac Niallais in the 44th minute, Cavanagh caught Ryan McHugh high and late but was spared further sanction by referee Joe McQuillan.
Tyrone were certainly thankful for the reprieve as Cavanagh had real influence on the contest thereafter.
Donegal had four shots blocked down in the first half, but they had an inch in their step at half-time thanks to Murphy’s rocket.
Tyrone might have had the goal they craved - and needed - but Cathal McShane couldn’t connect with Lee Brennan’s ball across in the 50th minute.
Brennan scored with his first two touches after coming on for Richard Donnelly and there were eight points and five yellow cards in a helter-skelter third quarter.
It took a mighty block from McHugh to prevent Loughran from an equalising goal and Donegal marched up the other end for McGrath to post the second Championship point of his career.
Tyrone were gaining traction and it wasn’t long before the plates shifted and the old ground was shaking at its seams.
“We were playing well and I thought we were in control of the game,” mentioned Bonner.
“This game was winnable. We had no fear going into this game. If we played to the level we knew we were capable of doing, and avoided those mistakes in terms of getting turned over, we had a big chance, and ultimately that’s what let us down.”
Tyrone are down a familiar road and their penchant to hitting back after defeats in Ulster has got them through once more.
Harte said: “We have some kind of capacity to do that alright. I would not like to be depending on it, I would like to still win a few Ulster titles and go through the front door but there is something about it that our team seems to embrace.
“They don’t get too annoyed about the defeat they have suffered and they tend to learn from it. This season they have got to learn from two defeats and we are still playing so that is all good.”
DONEGAL: 1 S Patton; 2 Paddy McGrath (0-1), 3 N McGee, 4 S McMenamin; 26 E Gallagher (0-1), 18 E Doherty, 5 F McGlynn, 8 H McFadden, 14 M Murphy (1-2, one free, one 45); 12 C Thompson (0-1), 9 L McLoone, 7 R McHugh (0-1); 15 J Brennan (0-3), 13 O Mac Niallais (0-2), 11 M Langan (0-1). Subs: 6 P Brennan for Thompson (49), 10 N O’Donnell (0-1) for Mac Niallais (56), 23 A Thompson for McGlynn (60), 22 M McElhinney for Langan (63), 25 M O’Reilly for McLoone (67), 19 M McHugh for McGrath (70).
TYRONE: 1 N Morgan (0-1, one free); 2 M McKernan, 3 R McNamee (0-1), 6 F Burns; 5 T McCann (0-1), 13 C McShane, 12 C Meyler; 8 C Cavanagh (0-1), 9 P Hampsey (0-2); 15 C McAliksey (0-2, two frees), 10 M Donnelly (0-2), 7 P Harte (0-1, one free); 17 M Bradley (0-1), 14 R Donnelly, 11 N Sludden. Subs: 19 R Brennan for McKernan (black card, 5), 25 K McGeary (0-1) for Burns (39), 18 L Brennan (0-4, one free) for R.Donnelly (39), 21 H Loughran (1-0) for McAliskey (48), 22 C McCann for McShane (53), 23 D McClure (1-0) for Sudden (68).
Referee: J McQuillan (Cavan).